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Last Man Standing: The Memoirs, Letters & Photographs of a Teenage Officer [Kindle Edition]

Richard Van Emden
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Book Description

It hardly seems credible today that a nineteen-year-old boy, just commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders, could lead a platoon of men into the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. Or that, as the machine gun bullets whistled past and shells exploded, he could maintain his own morale to lead a platoon, keeping its discipline and cohesion, in spite of desperate losses. Norman Collins, the author of this superb memoir, was this remarkable man.Despite being wounded three times, Norman lived to see his hundredth birthday so becoming one of the last surviving combatants of this terrible conflict. Through his eloquent memories recorded late in life and a rare collection of letters that he wrote from the front, he tells the story of his life as a young subaltern at the front during 1916 and 1917. Using Norman’s own words, this book follows him from his childhood in Hartlepool to his subsequent service in France. The book also covers such shattering events as the German naval assault on Hartlepool in December 1914 when, as a seventeen-year-old, Norman was subjected to as big a bombardment as any occurring on the Western Front at that time.Norman’s enlistment and training are covered in detail in his letters, as is his posting to France and the epic attack at Beaumont Hamel in November 1916. Service at Arras in April 1917 and in the weeks prior to the Third Battle for Ypres is also recorded before serious injury hospitalized him for a year.Norman’s love for, and devotion to, the men under his command shine out in this book and his stories are gripping and deeply moving. They are illustrated by a rare collection of private photographs taken at or near the front by Norman himself, although the use of a camera was strictly proscribed by the Army. Most of the images have never been published before.

Product Description


This fantastic little WWI book is a must for any budding historians. Collins was underage when he joined the Seaforth Highlanders and was a 19-year-old officer when he led at the battle of the Somme. This book contains extracts from his diaries and a remarkable personal collection of photographs which lend this account a poignancy and immediacy which is often breathtaking. - Scottish Field This is a harrowing tale of battle, loss and the horrors of war. - Scotland Magazine

About the Author

The Author came across Norman Collins while researching his best selling TV tie-in book Veterans. He was immediately struck by this truly remarkable character, who was then over 100 years old. Sadly Norman has now died but Richard Van Emden had not been deterred from writing what is by any standard a most exhilarating memoir of an exceptional veteran.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 8237 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword; Reprint edition (8 Nov. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A3W2094
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #85,233 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Great War memoirs 8 May 2012
By Chris Baker VINE VOICE
Do not hesitate: if you have any interest in the Great War or a man's experiences at war, you will find no better work than "Last man standing". It is a genuine "cannot-put-down". Editor Richard van Emden has produced a really memorable account of Norman Collins' war, based on Norman's own letters, photographs and descriptive memoir. Norman reached the grand old age of one hundred years and passed away in 1998, but in his later years Richard got to know him well. The story, however, is of a boy who was just seventeen in 1914.

Norman Collins was perhaps typical in that he was keen to get to war, to the extent that he did not tell his parents and went as far from his home as possible to enlist, joining the Seaforth Highlanders as a ranker in mid 1915. He had already seen some of war's brutality, in the form of the German naval bombardment of his home town of Hartlepool. From the time he joined, Norman was very evidently proud to be a "kiltie". He was a good soldier, rapidly promoted through the ranks and commissioned after officer training at Lichfield. His descriptions of life there and previously at Seaforths barracks and camps at Fort George and Ripon paint a detailed and absorbing picture of the soldier's life in training.

Once in France he sees a great deal of action, serving with the 4th and 6th Battalions and going over the top at Beaumont Hamel (November 1916) and Arras (April 1917). His experiences inevitably include the deaths of close friends, comrades and even his young servant. Norman is also detailed to lead a burial party after the attack at Beaumont-Hamel, in which his men find around 1000 bodies including many skeletal remains from 1 July 1916.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Last Man Standing 3 Jan. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If, like me, you have previously read general histories of the 1st World War, this personal record shows things from a different perspective.

Norman Collins was unusual in that all his letters home were kept, thus giving a remarkably complete record of his army life and thoughts from the date of his joining the army as a young volunteer until shortly after the end of hostilities.

He had joined his school cadet force which gave him a sound introduction to army life. His letters during his army training show how the army set about things: everything is covered - from food, sleeping accommodation, leave, exercises and so on. He, and his volunteer colleagues, looked forward to the prospect of war and to joining the regiments they were keen on, seeing things more or less as an adventure - not knowing of course what the reality would turn out to be. 'The day war broke out I was thrilled' he wrote and rushed down to the recruiting station. Patriotism, he says, was assumed.

Fairly quickly, his confidence, abilities and the encouragement of his CO lead him to apply for a Commission, which he duly attained.

In France he proved to be a very competent officer judging by the tasks he was allotted. And he gave much thought to the needs of the men in his charge. Early on he says 'On the whole I prefer this to being at home as I am doing something at last and although it is a very hard life it is not so monotonous'. He was just 19.

Physical conditions were often appalling. Apart from the fighting there was the mud, sometimes almost waste deep. One of his tasks was to collect the dead. Rats scurried from the chest cavities of some of the bodies.

Later, his enthusiasm was less marked, though he always continued to be an effective officer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good first-hand account.. 15 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
..of a fairly ordinary young man who served throughout WW1 but who was a brave and observant soldier. A recommended read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrors of War 17 April 2013
By John
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What a stimulating and excellent biography of one man's war. I recommend it to all would be military historians. I was amazed that he remained a 2nd Lt despite all the deaths of his comrades and his obvious good performance as an officer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for WW1 enthusiasts 14 Dec. 2012
By graham
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A great insight into the thoughts and feelings of a truly brave young soldier on the front line told from his memoirs at the time and accounts in later life.

If WW1 is of interest to you then this is a must. A snip at only £0.98

Purchase now
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This story is a terrific read and reveals an era at the beginning of the 20 th Century of close family, personal ambition, loyalty to your country and the real horrors of war.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Memorable Read 13 Jun. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
It felt like a privilege to read this. I possibly have a better understanding of WW1 now than I've ever had. I think it was the immediacy of it, composed as it is largely of letters written home, either from his training periods, or else from the Front itself. The day-to-day-ness of the book made it so much easier to comprehend than serious, weighty historical tomes ever could - in my opinion, anyway. And I found myself liking this man enormously. The book also cleared up something for me. In my ignorance I'd always felt that, either with the volunteers during the first two years of this war, or else the conscripts from 1916 onwards, officers and men alike were more or less given a uniform and a rifle, shipped over the France, then told to just get on with it. Nothing, it seems, was further from the truth, because they were trained meticulously for many months before they were deemed fit to go and fight.

Norman didn't consider himself to be a hero. I beg to differ.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible account
Bluntly honest account of first hand experience of a remarkable teen becoming a man in war. A strongly recommended read.
Published 3 days ago by pladoy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another good read
Published 4 months ago by Mr D J Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very injteresting insight into the reality of WW1 as he experienced it.
Published 6 months ago by John H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by martin l buckingham
5.0 out of 5 stars Having been over the ground at Beaumont Hamel recently I found no...
Incredibly well written memoir which Richard Van Emden has crafted with his expert technique. Having been over the ground at Beaumont Hamel recently I found no better words than... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Micah Parsons
5.0 out of 5 stars ... interesting and sometimes poignant true story which gives a good...
A very interesting and sometimes poignant true story which gives a good insight into the great war.
Published 9 months ago by Mrs R from York
5.0 out of 5 stars recomended
read this book
Published 9 months ago by Pop
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
Quite the most moving story I have read, we must be very thankful to have men like Norman in our history.
Published 10 months ago by N. P. Evetts
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Story of military life
This real life diary/story was well written and descriptive of the hardships and the resilience of the writer leading to war
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb read
What a fascinating and moving personal account of WW1. This is how I love reading about history.....learning about it from the people who were there. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Neal
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